Wild weather around Australia this summer has put the reality of climate change into sharp relief. The whole country was caught in the grip of a heatwave that produced vicious fires along the East coast in particular, while floods returned to Queensland for the second time, killing 6 people and destroying 2000 homes.
Professor Will Steffen, a science adviser to the Department of Climate Change, told senators the weather wasn’t normal, but a feature of a “a climate on steroids”.
During the severe heatwave, the Bureau of Meteorology even had to add a new colour to its chart, deep purple, to depict the temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius that were roasting parts of central Australia. A new record national average temperature of 40.33 degrees Celsius almost doubled the previous record.
The extreme weather is not limited to Australia and climate scientists are warning this is just a taste of what’s to come. In the US, 2012 was not only the year of Hurricane Sandy, but the second worst year on record for extreme weather, including wildfires, hurricanes and droughts.
Worse than useless
The head of the Bureau of Meterology, Rob Vertessy, said average temparatures could be a full six—six!—degress hotter by the end of the century if action isn’t taken on climate change. In the face of this, the best that Julia Gillard could muster was, “while you would not put any one event down to climate change … we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events”.
Gillard congratulated the firefighters and talked up disaster relief, but at the same time as doing absolutely nothing of use on climate change.
The sad truth is Labor’s carbon tax has only served to undermine some of the broad public support that existed for climate action when Labor was first elected, because the tax has been associated with the rising cost of living. And now Labor now wants to avoid the issue of climate change, while the planet heats up and wild weather wrecks havoc.
Any idea that the carbon tax was going to mitigate emissions has become a joke. Instead of new solar power plants and wind turbines, we have the biggest polluters rolling in cash from compensation measures that went along with the tax.
A report by Frontier Economics revealed last October that the country’s heaviest polluting coal-fired power stations were in a stronger financial position—possibly even $1 billion dollars better off in total—than they would have been before the carbon tax. Two of Victoria’s dirtiest power stations, Hazelwood and Yallourn, actually received payouts of $266 and $117 million respectively in the middle of 2012.
While handing out this money, Labor completely backed off from plans to close some of the dirtiest coal-fired power stations by 2020.
The compensation, however, has not stopped rising electricity prices. In New South Wales, prices are up 50 per cent. The Australian Energy Commission estimates that average national prices will jump a further 37 per cent by 2014.
Relying on the market has been proven to be a disaster around the world. The European Union emissions trading scheme has been a giant flop. A recent report in The Australian, “Crisis in Europe carbon market”, revealed that European carbon emissions are rising and plans are “in place to build big coal-fired electricity generators to replace nuclear power plants.” Swiss bank UBS warned the scheme, on the verge of collapse because the price is so low, had cost consumers $287 billion for “almost zero impact.” The bank estimated that had that money been spent to directly replace the EU’s dirtiest power plants, emissions could have been reduced by 43 per cent!
The government has attempted to claim that the carbon tax has been responsible for a small reduction in emissions in Australia of up to 8.6 per cent since the carbon tax’s implementation. But they are taking credit where it is not due.
The real stimulus for these emissions reductions has been reducing electricity demand, resulting in the closures of a small number of coal plants. The Mandatory Renewable Energy Target has generated some small new renewable energy development. Neither of these have anything to do with the tax.
And these minor reductions are nowhere on the scale and speed we need. The billions of dollars of carbon tax compensation could be going into funding direct investment in renewable energy.